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Pharmacy Faults: All the gaffes from Pharmacy First's launch day

White coats, adult ears and prescriptions marked the day one errors as the new Pharmacy First service launched in England this week.

The launch of England’s Pharmacy First service on January 31 was a landmark day for the sector and brought unprecedented attention to community pharmacy.

The sheer volume of media coverage around the launch meant that bloopers were inevitable.

See our round-up of notable offenders below...


Mishaps and misrepresentations


The gaffes started early in the morning as pharmacy minister Andrea Leadsom appeared on Nick Ferrari’s LBC show.

Dame Andrea somewhat misjudged the support for Pharmacy First, claiming that 95% of pharmacists, rather than pharmacies, had signed up for the service.

She also went through the full service provision, noting that pharmacies now offered treatment for impetigo “particularly in babies”.

Unfortunately, the minister seems to have missed that the service explicitly excludes children younger than one year old.

Read more: Leadsom: ‘We want to support you in every way we can’

Even C+D was not immune to confusion about age brackets for services.

We published a story on the launch day on findings that half of the general public were “unaware” of Pharmacy First but most would use the service if it was clear what it offered

Ironically, we used a supplied picture showing a man having his ear examined using an otoscope to illustrate the piece.

GP pharmacist Siddiqur Rahman kindly pointed out on X - formerly Twitter - that “the otitis media service is for ages between one and 17 years old”. We quickly changed the image on our website, but the social media image remains as a record of our shame.

Superdrug, which supplied the image, confirmed that its pharmacists would only be using their otoscope on patients aged between one and 17 years old, adding that its pharmacists were “excited that an otoscope can be used for the first time in pharmacies”.

Read more: Nearly half of patients ‘unaware’ of Pharmacy First, survey reveals

Mistaken representations of pharmacists were a recurring theme on launch day and C+D noted many images of pharmacists wearing white coats.

On X, pharmacist Darren Powell - who goes by “Pharmacist Darren” - chose to compile some of his favourite examples of pharmacist (mis)representation in a light hearted thread.

Perhaps the most egregious example of a white coat pharmacist came from the very top, with the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) illustrating its announcement of Pharmacy First with a man wearing a white coat and a big smile.

The launch also highlighted a language gap. Many media outlets said that pharmacists would be issuing “prescriptions” using the service, rather than providing medicines using patient group directions (PGDs). The most prominent offender in this category was BBC Health News.


PDA: Accuracy checking matters


The Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) yesterday (February 1) said on X that there were consequences to inaccurately describing the new services.

Accurate description would “avoid subsequent frustration turning into incidents” as patients would be clear about what to expect from the service, it said.

In a blog also released this week (January 31), the union noted a “worrying level of misinformation” surrounding the service, including that patients were given the impression that they would be seen “immediately”. 

Read more: Pharmacy First: Pharmacies stuck with ‘cumbersome’ IT systems for ‘weeks’

It also noted a television spot that featured an otoscope being used on an adult. The PDA said that messaging has been published that suggests that “all pharmacists can prescribe medicines”, ignoring the “very specific inclusion criteria” for the PGDs.

The PDA called on NHS England (NHSE) “to work with the media to manage expectations” about the service.


IT issues


On Thursday (February 1), C+D reported that despite the prominent launch, the IT systems that will underpin the service were not yet ready. Dame Andrea said in parliament on January 31 that “there is a very short window in which some systems will have elements of manual intervention”.

And some pharmacy chains have come under fire from locums, who feel pressured into self-declaring their competence to provide Pharmacy First services.

Read more: ‘Aggressive’ Rowlands email demands locum Pharmacy First declaration

On January 31, a group of locum pharmacists working for Rowlands said they feel “intimidated to deliver Pharmacy First services” at the multiple.

And on January 30, C+D reported that locums were threatened with removal from Asda’s locum directory if they refuse to provide Pharmacy First services, according to an internal email.

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